The Best Places to Drink Wine in Chicago

While a remarkably large number of restaurants and bars in Chicago still cynically embrace mass-produced, clunky wines made for steakhouse consumption, there are a growing number of restaurants pushing the envelope. Much of this is thanks to an influx of new importers and distributors who’ve opened up the market for curious wine buyers. In turn, sherry, grower champagne, natural wine and California’s avant-garde all now have their champions here. But if it’s a grip of back-vintage Bordeaux or Burgundy you’re after you’re after, there’s no shortage of restaurants donning white tablecloths, crystal stemware and deep lists of the classics. As with any city as large and dynamic as Chicago, there really is something for everyone.

  • 1

    Avec

    Paul Kahan’s first casual spot, Avec, has been an industry favorite since it opened in 2003. Here Midwestern interpretations of Mediterranean classics are beautifully presented in a sparse, rail-road style dining room with communal seating. Come for a full meal of small plates, or just pop in for a snack and glass of wine before heading out to the many other destinations in the West Loop. The tight collection of around 150 wines—most of which fall well under $100—stays focused on Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. If you're on the hunt for value, head straight for the oft-neglected wines of Portugal, the Basque ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • Spanish wine
    • Portuguese wine
    • tapas
  • 2

    The Boarding House

    Master Sommelier Alpana Singh’s multi-level behemoth of a restaurant has a little something for everyone. The first floor features a more casual wine bar where you can enjoy cocktails and light fare. Tucked behind it is The Cellar Room, a loungey space with plush, low-slung banquettes, which—be forewarned—tends to get a little rowdy on the weekends. For a more traditional experience, go to the upstairs dining room where a team of well-informed servers can guide you through the deep list of old-school classics and a smattering of off-the-beaten-path gems from the Loire Valley and Beaujolais.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • French wine
    • vintage wine
    • craft cocktails
    • full menu
  • 3

    Income Tax

    This cozy little Edgewater eatery disguised as a pub is arguably the best new neighborhood spot to emerge in years. Starters and entrees are cherry picked from Europe’s most delicious regions, and the wines ride shotgun from France and Italy to Germany, with a few stops in Spain. (A handful of West Coast favorites made the list, too.) What’s most admirable about Income Tax is its ability to fly under the radar despite very good food and drinks, stellar service and affordable prices.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • good wine, French wine, German wine, full menu
  • 4

    The Purple Pig

    If you’re on The Mag Mile and want something other than the run-of-the-mill restaurant experience, then The Purple Pig—a collaboration between three beloved chefs, including Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia—is your best bet. The food is all about big, bold flavors that pay tribute to the Midwestern palate, but the wine selections offer the perfect counterbalance—skewing more toward low alcohol and high acid offerings from the old world. Like Rootstock, The Purple Pig's by-the-glass list is unusually exciting; well-chosen whites and reds from unexpected regions (Greece, Portugal, etc) prove to be a welcome discovery and a ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • good wine
    • craft beer
    • outdoor / patio
  • 5

    Pops For Champagne

    This Chicago mainstay has been around for more than 30 years, and for good reason. With five full pages dedicated to sparkling wine Pops is, well, for champagne. While the list does cross into still wine territory, you come here to drink champagne. The no-longer-new River North location, with Pops moved to in River North in 2006, is a little less homey than Pops' previous location, so if you’re craving the lived-in vibe of the former Pops location, head downstairs to the Watershed, a cocktail bar within Pops that also features a short list of wines and local spirits. If you ask nicely, the full list of wines is also ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • champagne
    • craft cocktails
    • happy hour
    • live music
  • 6

    RM Champagne Bar

    This charming, hard-to-find little champagne bar in the West Loop is one of the best places to drink grower champagne in Chicago. Walk down Green Street from Randolph and make a right down a tiny walkway and you'll hit a beautiful brick courtyard nestled between several buildings—one of the prime oases in the city comes summer.  The bistro-esque menu is serviceable, but the real star here is the bubbly.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • champagne
    • bar food
  • 7

    Rootstock

    Rootstock has the classic “3rd place”—or home-away-from-home—vibe, with its mismatched furniture, comfort food and great drinks at low prices. In addition to having a wine list that is any wine geek’s dream, there is an impressive beer and cider list and the food is way better than it needs to be, considering the place mostly functions as a wine bar. The real draw, though, is the low markups, which make it easy to drink many hard-to-find bottles for a lot less than you can anywhere else in the city. The owners, who are there nightly, price the bottles to sell and are happy to see much-prized gems go to appreciative ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • low wine markups
    • craft beer
    • charcuterie
  • 8

    Spiaggia

    Chicago's most well-known Italian restaurant, Spiaggia, recently had a make-over to spruce up its 30-year-old self; it has not skipped a beat. Not only is the food and service as tight as ever, the wine program—run by longtime Chicago sommelier Rachael Lowe—offers up the sort of quality you'd expect from one of Chicago’s longest running four-star restaurants. While Italian wine is undoubtedly the thing to drink on this 700-bottle list, the list of grower champagnes is also one of the city's best. If you aren’t looking for the fine dining experience, hit the lounge at Spiaggia, where you can drink well in a more casual ...

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    KNOWN FOR

    • Italian wine
    • vintage wine
    • craft cocktails
    • full menu
    • fine dining
    • amari
  • 9

    Sepia

    From the craft cocktails to the choice of stemware to the table spacing, this gorgeous, Michelin-starred restaurant—which was built from a late-19th-century printing shop—hits all the right notes. While it has all of the trappings of an upscale restaurant, it's actually remarkably affordable. This extends to the wine list, which effortlessly creates a modern canon of both classics—including an impressive list of champagnes—and regions and styles of wine once considered part of the fringe. For those seeking guidance from the list itself, there are thoughtful notes from the wine director, Arthur Hon, tucked in throughout.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • orange wine
    • vintage wine
    • fine dining
    • full menu
    • craft cocktails
  • 10

    Webster's Wine Bar

    Webster’s has been a classic establishment in Chicago since 1994, and for good reason. Recently relocated to Logan Square, where it took over the space formerly occupied by its sister wine bar, Telegraph, Webster's wine list remains as comprehensive, offering classic wines from classic regions as well as more obscure, but well-chosen wines from all around the globe.

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    KNOWN FOR

    • natural wine
    • vintage wine
    • bar food

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